Scottish Housing Minister Margaret Burgess has announced the introduction of a new tribunal within the private rented sector for resolution of landlord and tenant disputes, currently handled by the sheriff courts. Whilst welcomed on the whole throughout the industry, the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland has expressed some disappointment as to the extent of its jurisdiction.
On May 30th 2013 the Scottish Government published their strategy for the private rented sector entitled “A Place to Stay, A Place to Call Home: A Strategy for the Private Rented Sector in Scotland” within it they cited, amongst 10 key actions, the following intention:
“Use findings from Scottish Government consultations on (i) options for improving dispute resolution in rented housing, including the potential creation of a new Housing Panel, and (ii) proposals for reforms in the sheriff court, to inform action aimed at improving redress for consumers, including legislative change as required.”
Four months down the line the new tribunal has come to fruition, with acknowledgement that support of both landlord and tenant in dispute must pass to a third party for mediation and resolution. Margaret Burgess had this to say:
“…where parties cannot reach an agreement to resolve their dispute, someone else needs to step in. By introducing a specialist private rented sector tribunal tenants and landlords will benefit from a more accessible and specialist decision maker for their disputes. This will enable increased access to effective justice.”
The announcement for the tribunal comes ahead of its inclusion within a new housing bill and aims to enable private tenants in exercising their legal rights. It has been widely agreed that until now trying to use the existing process of settling disputes through the sheriff courts has been a complicated and costly task for Scottish tenants, and many have simply been put off.
The tribunal will only operate within the private sector, which means tenants within social rented housing will not benefit from any assistance if they encounter a tenancy dispute. It is this that is a source of disappointment to the CIH Scotland who otherwise welcomed the move. Speaking on behalf of the CIH, David Bookbinder, Head of Policy and Public Affairs vocalised both sides of the organisations reaction to the news:
“CIH Scotland welcomes the announcement and we hope it will come to be seen as the first and very important milestone in our call for more effective dispute resolution across the whole housing sector.
“We are naturally disappointed that the housing tribunal will not at this stage include social rented housing cases. It is these cases that make up the majority of those being heard in the sheriff court and so would have the greatest impact in terms of providing better access to justice and reducing the burden on the court system. CIH Scotland will continue to argue for a housing tribunal system to operate across all housing tenures.”
Time will tell whether this service is made available to social housing tenants, but for now at least within the private rented sector landlords and tenants in dispute have an improved recourse when unable to settle their differences.